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Real Madrid, Liverpool eye Champions League title

ANKARA (Agencies): Spain’s Real Madrid and England’s Liverpool will face off for the Champions League title in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Saturday.

The National Sports Complex Olympic Stadium will host the match. Real Madrid have won a record 12 Champions League titles and are looking for their third in a row. Liverpool last won the Champions League title in 2005 — their fifth — defeating AC Milan in penalties after a thrilling comeback from 3-0 down in Istanbul.

Liverpool’s Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah and Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino will constitute the main offensive threats. Salah scored 10 goals in 12 Champions League appearances this season. Firmino has 10 goals.

In addition, Senegalese winger Sadio Mane scored nine goals in Champions League competition.

Ronaldo to lead Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 15 goals in 12 Champions League games.  Real Madrid’s Spanish defender Dani Carvajal, 26, is expected to miss the final due to injury. Midfielder Isco is also doubtful.

As for Liverpool, English winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cameroonian defender Joel Matip and English defender Joe Gomez suffer from injuries.

However Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said German midfielder Emre Can, who had been injured, was now fit to play the final.

The match in Kiev will kick off at 1845GMT and will be officiated by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic.



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Serena, Venus get doubles wildcard

Paris (Agencies):  Serena and Venus Williams were handed a wild card into the French Open women’s doubles as the American sisters seek to add a third Roland Garros title to their triumphs in 1999 and 2010.

They have won 14 Grand Slam doubles as a team but since their last win together in Paris they have only featured on two further occasions at the tournament, losing in the first round in 2013 and the third round in 2016. Serena, a three-time singles champion at the French Open, will be playing in her first Grand Slam tournament since winning the Australian Open in 2017 after which she stepped off the tour to give birth to her daughter in September. On Thursday, she was drawn to face Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the first round of the singles which gets underway on Sunday. Venus starts against China’s Wang Qiang.


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Shafiq, Azam fifties keep Pakistan on top

LONDON (Agencies): Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam crafted patient fifties to lift Pakistan to 227 for five at tea on the second day of the first test against England at Lord’s on Friday.

The touring side, who bowled England out for 184 after losing the toss, moved 43 runs ahead on another overcast day at the home of cricket and were in a strong position to dictate the course of the match.

Resuming on 50 for one, Azhar Ali and Haris Sohail were untroubled by a toothless England seam attack in the first hour and Azhar played one glorious cover drive for four off Mark Wood as the pair took the total to 87. Wood made the breakthrough when Sohail edged an outswinger to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow to depart for 39.

England captain Joe Root rotated his fast bowlers in an effort to unsettle the batsmen before turning to off-spinner Dom Bess in his first test. Azhar nudged the 20-year-old for a single to bring up a half-century that included six fours, but the compact right-hand batsman failed to add to his tally, falling lbw to a full-length delivery from James Anderson.

Shafiq and Azam took Pakistan to 136 for three at lunch and the pair continued to gather runs comfortably in the afternoon session.

Shafiq chopped Wood high over the slips to reach his half-century and moved on to 59 before he was surprised by a short ball from Ben Stokes which looped up off his bat to Dawid Malan at second slip.

Azam played some wristy strokes and became the third Pakistan batsman to make fifty but he lost his partner Sarfraz Ahmed just before tea when the captain skied a pull off Stokes and was well caught by a diving Wood on the fine-leg boundary.

Azam was unbeaten on 59 at the interval and Pakistan were on course to establish a healthy first-innings lead and put England under pressure at the start of the two-match series.


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Bowlers’ fitness concerns Shoaib Akhtar

Monitoring Desk

KARACHI: Legendary Pakistan fast-bowler Shoaib Akhtar has raised concerns over the fitness of the Pakistani bowlers in the upcoming two-Test series against England.

Akhtar, who holds the record for bowling the fastest bowl in the cricket history, expressed those views while talking to the media on Wednesday.

“Bowlers’ fitness is my primary concern,” said Akhtar. “They are not performing consistently precisely because of that. All of them play too many T20 and 50-over matches and that’s their focus. But the real deal is Test cricket, where fitness becomes a real issue. You have to be extremely fit to bowl three or four spells in a day and I don’t see that with this current bowling lot. Amir was limping in Ireland, Hasan Ali is not fit either and Rahat Ali is not assured of his role. I think even he can’t decide if he is an attacking bowler or a defensive bowler. In such circumstances, it is natural to believe that Pakistan will have a really tough time in England.”

Akhtar, who represented Pakistan in 46 Tests, 163 ODIs and 15 T20Is, claiming a total of 444 wickets along the way, believes the tour will also be tough for the batsmen.

“This is a new era and people need to step up, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq in particular because they are the seniors,” he said. “But apart from that, I genuinely believe our batting is not equipped to playing well in seaming conditions. We are unsure about conditions because we are not acclimatised.  We’ve seen this in Ireland where there was a bit of moisture on the track and our batting struggled. So I think it’s going to be a huge test for the batsman as they will be tested against the best in the world.”

However, the former pacer believes the side won’t just take it lying down. “Having said all that, I have full confidence in the Pakistan team. I want them to fight and get in the game. If they get good conditions, they should capitalise on them. I believe this team has the potential to produce good results. They have the talent, but we have to see if it gets converted into performances. If they perform well in Tests then they can have my vote because I don’t feel that becoming number one in T20Is or doing well in ODIs means anything to be honest.  But even then my vote is for Pakistan and I really hope they will do well. I really want this team to go up the ladder as only that will give me satisfaction.”

Akhtar also backed Babar Azam to produce the goods in the whites and asked him to be a little aggressive. “I don’t think criticism on Babar is fair,” he said. “I don’t understand why he stops himself from playing shots. Go out there and play shots.  He needs to step up, he has talent and skills, but he need to deliver for the team.” Talking about captain Sarfraz Ahmed’s role in the upcoming series, Akhtar believes the wicketkeeper-batsman needs to focus on his form and fitness to avoid criticism.

“Sarfraz needs to work on his fitness, needs to work on his batting as well,” he said. “If he won’t perform, he will be under pressure and there will be discussions in the media about his position. Also, his fitness remains questionable as well. It takes a lot out of a wicketkeeper-batsman to first keep wickets, then come at five or sixth in the batting order and then work on his captaincy as well. If Pakistan pull this off with some good results, this is going to be a great victory for the team.”

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Kohli pulls out of stint with Surrey due to neck injury

NEW DELHI (Agencies): India captain Virat Kohli on Thursday pulled out of a month long stint with English county Surrey because of a neck injury and is now in a race to be ready for his country’s tour of England.

The key 29-year-old batsman will undergo rehabilitation that will decide when he joins India’s games in England starting in July, the Board of Control for Cricket in India said in a statement.

Kohli, who has one of the most intensive playing schedules in cricket and is one of the world’s top paid athletes, was to play for Surrey in the English county championship in June to prepare for the tour.

Kohli suffered the injury while fielding for his Indian Premier League side Royal Challengers Bangalore in their match against Sunrisers Hyderabad on May 17, BCCI acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary said.

“Mr Kohli, who was scheduled to play for Surrey CCC in the month of June, has been ruled out from participating. This decision was taken following assessments by the BCCI medical team, subsequent scans, and a specialist visit. The Team India captain will now undergo a period of rehabilitation under the supervision of the BCCI medical team,” said Choudhary.

The board said that after restarting training Kohli will “undergo a fitness test” in Bangalore from June 15. “The BCCI medical team is confident that Mr Kohli will regain full fitness ahead of India’s upcoming tours to Ireland and England.”

Indian media reports said Kohli went to a Mumbai hospital on Wednesday. The Mumbai Mirror said Kohli saw an orthopaedic surgeon who told him there was damage to spinal nerves and that he may miss part of the England tour if the injury worsened. Kohli missed a one-day international during a recent tour of South Africa because of a strained neck.

BCCI officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kohli was also suffering from “fatigue” however.

On top of his workload, Kohli in January married Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma in a celebrity wedding that put him at the centre of attention in India.

In the past year, Kohli has appeared in nine Tests and 29 of India’s 32 one-day internationals, and nine of their T20s. He also played in 14 IPL matches in Bangalore’s disappointing campaign. Kohli did not make any comment about the injury, but the withdrawal announcement came on the day he apologized to fans for Bangalore’s failure to reach the Indian Premier League playoffs.



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Istanbul to host 2020 Champions League final

KIEV (Agencies): Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium will host the 2020 Champions League final, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin confirmed in Kiev on Thursday.

The 76,000-capacity ground played host to Liverpool’s famous comeback from 3-0 down to win the Champions League on penalties against AC Milan in 2005. The 2020 Europa League final will be played in Gdansk, Poland with the UEFA Super Cup being held in Porto’s Estadio Dragao. Vienna will play host the women’s 2020 Champions League final.

UEFA have been under pressure to ensure future final host cities have the hotel and airport infrastructure to cope with the influx of fans, delegates and media for the biggest game in club football.

Liverpool have complained to UEFA after their fans faced spiralling accommodation and travel costs for Saturday’s final against holders Real Madrid in Kiev, the city which played host to the Euro 2012 final. “They just don’t have the airport infrastructure and the hotel capacity to cope with an event of this size and there isn’t another major city within real hitting distance of it,” Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore told the Liverpool Echo newspaper.

“It’s not only affected Liverpool fans but Real Madrid fans too. There will be lessons learned from this. Rest assured, I’ve raised this at the highest levels of UEFA.” The UEFA president had already reintroduced a tender process for bidding for finals since taking over from Michel Platini. The decision to award the final to Kiev was made prior to Ceferin’s election as president in 2016. Next season’s final will be held at the 67,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano, home of Atletico Madrid.




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Ireland’s Ed Joyce retires from cricket

LONDON (Agencies): Dual international Ed Joyce on Thursday announced his retirement from all forms of cricket less than a fortnight after realising his dream of playing a Test for Ireland.

The 39-year-old was one of the 11 men who made history against Pakistan in Malahide earlier this month, when Ireland became the 11th Test-playing nation. Joyce played a total of 78 one day internationals — 17 for his adopted country of England — and 18 Twenty20 internationals, two for England. He returned to the Irish fold in time for the 2011 World Cup and became the side’s senior player as well as one of the most reliable batsmen. Joyce, who last year ended a county career that began in 1999, will take up a backroom position with Cricket Ireland as a batting and leadership coach.

“I feel now is the right time to stop playing and get started on a new chapter,” he said. “The recent Test match against Pakistan was such an incredible few days and was the perfect game for me to say was my last in professional cricket.” William Porterfield, Joyce’s long-time team-mate and Ireland skipper, said: “He has had such an amazing career that he can be so proud of over the past 20 or so years. For it to culminate in taking the field for Ireland’s first ever Test match was the icing on the cake, I’m sure.”

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Falcao gets jail time

ANKARA (Agencies): French football club Monaco striker Radamel Falcao on Wednesday got 16 months behind bars and a €9 million ($10.5 million) fine for tax evasion. Spanish sports daily Marca said that Falcao had been found guilty by a Spanish court of tax evasion from 2011 to 2013, when he played for Atletico Madrid.

Falcao got the sentences for two tax crimes: false income statements and image rights fraud. Prosecutors claimed Falcao defrauded the state of €822,609 ($966,376) in 2012 and €4,839,253 ($5,685,011) in 2013. Recent years have seen financial probes and charges against Spanish La Liga stars such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Marcelo, Neymar, Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria, Ricardo Carvalho, Daniel Alves, and Samuel Eto’o.



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ICC official advice Pakistani players to not wear smart watches

Monitoring Desk

KARACHI: An International Cricket Council anti-corruption officer has advised Pakistan cricketers to avoid wearing smart watches while on the field for the match.

The issue was raised when two Pakistan players – Babar Azam and Asad Shafiq – were spotted wearing smart watches while fielding during England’s innings at the Lord’s Test.

“As soon team returned to the dressing room after bowling England out in first innings, the Pakistan Cricket Board and ICC anti-corruption official told players not to wear the smar twatches,” said a team official.

Although there is no formal ban on wearing such watches but their specifications make them fall under “communication devices” which is banned from being used under ICC anti-corruption rules.

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Pakistani fast bowler made difficult for England top order to made good innings

Monitoring Desk

LONDON: Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Abbas and Hasan Ali took four wickets and difficult for England top batsmen to made a good score at Lord´s on Thursday.

Abbas, in his first match at ´the home of cricket´, finished with excellent figures of four for 23 in 14 over’s.

Meanwhile the recalled Hasan, who did not play in Pakistan´s win over Test debutants Ireland in Dublin concluded last week, took four for 51 in 15.2 over’s.

Pakistan then consolidated the good work of their bowlers by reaching stumps having lost just Imam-ul-Haq to be 50 for one — a deficit of 134 runs.

Azhar Ali was 18 not out and Haris Sohail, missed in the slips when Ben Stokes dived across Dawid Malan, unbeaten on 21.

Alastair Cook in his 153rd consecutive Test, which equaled Australia great Allan Border´s all-time record for successive appearances at this level, was the only England batsman to play an innings of substance, the left-handed opener making 70.

The England opener led a fight back on the first day. At tea England were 165 for five, having slumped to 43 for three before lunch after home captain Joe Root had won the toss and batted.

Cook, in his 153rd consecutive Test, which equalled Australia great Allan Border´s all-time record for successive appearances at this level, revived England with a fine 70.

But shortly before tea he was bowled by Amir, a team-mate when Essex won the County Championship last season, as the left-arm quick produced a brilliant delivery that cut away late off the pitch late to clip the top of the opener´s off stump. Cook faced 148 balls, including 14 fours

Ben Stokes was unbeaten on 36, having hoisted leg-spinner Shadab Khan for the first six of this match. Jos Buttler, recalled as a specialist number seven, was unbeaten on 13.

Root opted to bat first in the opening match of this two-Test series, despite the overcast conditions and a green-tinged pitch offering the promise of assistance for Pakistan´s pacemen.

Both England and Pakistan´s have concerns over their batting so it was a particularly bold decision by Root.

It certainly looked a good toss for Pakistan to lose as three members of an England top-order that repeatedly failed during winless winter Test tours of Australia and New Zealand all fell for single-figure scores.

But the work of team fielding coach Steve Rixon, the former Australia wicket-keeper, was rewarded when Asad Shafiq held a difficult catch at second slip edge after Jos Buttler, recalled as a specialist number seven, edged a drive off Hasan and fell for 14.

The innings ended when Amir held a well-judged catch running back at mid-on to dismiss Mark Wood.

It was the latest memorable Lord´s incident for Amir, who took six wickets in a Test innings at MCC´s headquarters in 2010 — the same match where his involvement in a spot-fixing scandal led to a jail